• Kyodo


Vahid Halilhodzic will be looking for some attacking spark when revenge-minded Japan faces Singapore away on Thursday in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in the Asian second-round Group E.

Halilhodzic’s men were held to an embarrassing 0-0 draw in their opening match at home against Singapore in June. Despite peppering the visitors’ goal with 23 shots, the Blue Samurai were unable to find a way past goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who had the game of his life for Singapore.

“It was a bitter experience last time out so we’ll be up for revenge,” said Halilhodzic, who has selected seven forwards rather than the usual pick of six for the encounter. “It will be tougher with them playing at home, and we need firm determination.

“It is important to score early of course, but even if we can’t, we need to keep fighting aggressively,” the Franco-Bosnian coach said.

“Europe-based players have jet lag and there’s the heat to think about too.”

While Japan’s usual go-to men Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki are both finding game time hard to come by at AC Milan and Leicester City, 23-year-old Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto is in fine form ahead of the game, scoring a hat-trick against Augsburg at the end of October to take his debut season goal tally to six in Bundesliga.

“I don’t know when I’m going to be called upon, but as a forward I’d like to leave my mark wherever I’m asked to play,” said Muto, who is likely to be one of those tasked to break down the Singapore backline.

Hertha Berlin’s Genki Haraguchi and Salzburg’s Takumi Minamino have earned their spots in the squad after cementing regular starting places for their respective clubs, with the latter’s eight goals this season in particular looking an intriguing option for Halilhodzic.

Japan finds itself two points behind Syria and level with the hosts on 10 points despite winning all three games after the opener, although the team heads into this reverse fixture with a game in hand on both teams.

Takashi Usami has uncharacteristically gone seven games without a goal for Gamba Osaka, while another name among the list of forwards, Mu Kanazaki, is back after five years following a dogged display for Kashima Antlers that brought his club a record sixth Nabisco Cup on Oct. 31.

“I think I was picked because we were rated as a team. I’d like to thank my teammates,” said the 26-year-old, who scored the second goal in the 3-0 win over Gamba in the final and has nine league goals this season.

Japan, 50th in the FIFA ranking, has 20 wins, two draws and three defeats against Singapore, which is ranked 152th in the world.

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